Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes

Today I started tutoring an ESOL student who moved here from India only four months ago. We are working together to prepare him for the graduation test. His ESOL teacher’s classroom is next door to my host teacher’s, and she asked me yesterday if I’d mind tutoring during first block since my teacher and I have planning.

Today we started studying together. He has a pretty good grasp on English, because he took classes in it while in school in India. The interesting thing about working with him is that he understands the concepts behind the words I’m saying; it’s just about matching a concept to the English word used to describe it. It brings Saussure‘s linguistic concept of sign and signifier to life. I tried to use examples from Indian culture (to say my knowledge in this area is limited is a vast understatement) to explain the concepts behind “sermon,” “tradition,” “customs,” “reverence,” and other words to him. In our review, we began to go over American literary periods, and it was as much a review of the history of America as it was a review of our literature.

Working with him really gave me a lot of compassion for ESOL students and students who are immigrants to the United States. I realized today that so much of the knowledge base needed to do well in school is formed around cultural intelligence, and this must be so difficult to learn. I cannot even imagine moving to India to take a major test in four months—for one thing, I don’t know Hindi. For another thing, it would be so difficult to learn another country’s cultural and historical background in that amount of time.

In order to be compassionate to our students, we must be able to put ourselves in their shoes. Doing that with this student gave me so much respect for all that he is going through as an ESOL student and a recent immigrant.



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